Dear Roker Report,
Re: the reader who wrote in to exclaim that he’s the only Mackem in Cape Town - he’s not the only one!
I was born in Hordon Colliery in 1955 and my father, a staunch Sunderland supporter, was mine surveyor at Trimdon Grange until 1963 when he took a job with Anglo American in South Africa. We lived on the mines in Witbank and then on to Johannesburg. I recall listening to the 1973 Cup Final BBC commentary over the radio as TV had not as yet found its way to South Africa.
Although I left England at the age of eight, my father would take me to Roker Park in the years prior to that, I recall staring outside the player’s entrance to get Brian Clough’s autograph. My favourite player was George Herd. I saw him play against Newcastle and he made such an impression on me. Monty was the star in goal and Charley Hurley was great at the back. The late Stan Anderson was captain at this stage.
I have only been able to make it back to watch the Lads play every so often, but I am a life long supporter. The registration plate on my vehicle is BLKCATs-WP!
I would like to make contact with Steve so if you would not be in breach of any confidentiality act, could you please let me have his email address and assure him he is not a lone voice at the tip of Africa.
It’s good to see a good clean out of the club after we were sent into free fall but I am optimistic that we can turn it around, and I wish all at the club all the best and we will be shouting and wearing the shirt for you down here.
(From Fish Hoek, Cape Town, South Africa)
Ed’s Note [Gav]: We’ve had a fair few people get in touch to let us know that Steve isn’t the only one from Cape Town! We’ll be sure to put you both in touch.
I’m always fascinated to hear from fans that live abroad and have a much different experience of supporting Sunderland to the one I have. I perhaps take for granted the fact I can be out of my front door and at the Stadium of Light within 15 minutes.
Dear Roker Report,
Like many I’m loving the new start Sunderland have under such an engaging leadership team. I’m relieved the focus isn’t on how much money our new owners can spend as we’ve seen how easily that can be wasted and deteriorate a situation but on getting our identity back and bringing organisation back to the club which will then allow players to flourish. He’s absolutely right, at league 1 level you barely need to spend a penny on transfer fees to get good players.
Anyway - my point considers the atmosphere on match days and taking the talk around the Dortmund model about the playing side of things, as someone who loves going to European games for experiences (inc Dortmund) there are some real improvements that can be made by learning from these clubs in terms of making matchdays a real community event. A few of my quick thoughts below give the gist of it and sure others possibly have better ideas but it’s something I think us fans should think about.
I liked the idea of the fan zone but thought we complicated it. Introduce beer shelters all round the ground (nothing extravagant, few big umbrellas and places to put your pint down), red and white them up, welcome opposition fans (remembering 99% of football fans are decent folk like us) and play football orientated tunes (cheesier the better). Open for 2 hours and close 1 hour before kick off. Re-open straight after games for a couple of hours, get the fan led podcasts to mingle and do post match reviews for evening listening. Even get the industrial BBQs out during the sunnier periods. Take the merchandise outside of the stores, set up multiple stalls around the ground, same goes for the ALS shop, even if it’s just for a bit of promotional work rather than about sales. The more fans in and around the ground for longer the better.
Entice people into the ground early - at Dortmund the 1 hour build up to the game is incredible (admittedly the bring alcoholic drinks to your seat helps). Increase music volume significantly to club anthems and memorable football tunes (cheer up peter Reid and stuff like that), appointed flag bearers on pitch, give kids free flags to join in. The occasional band on pitch. Get someone running round with microphones to get quick thoughts from players/staff on the pitch. It would take a while to get off the ground so bare with the likely cringey initiation.
Get the supporter-led groups to lead by example, give them prominent roles on matchdays. And get them quicker in forming player-based songs, they can share the lyrics using media platforms. We’ve got some gooduns but we could have better in my opinion (admittedly no one stays long enough). Even stretch it to some newer club anthems.
One thing that disgusts me is the lack of acknowledgment from players at end of game to fans, the Fulham away game at the end of last season where the players even had to consciously ignore us was diabolical. Win, lose or draw make sure the players commit to a proper acknowledgement of fans home and away, and together, show a unity for once. After defeat the risk is clearly there but proper fans will appreciate this gesture significantly over the long term. Dortmund players go straight to ‘the wall’ and impressive to see.
Go single use plastic free, have some pride in our image. Re-usable pint mugs or something, repayable deposit of £1 for return.
The point I’m trying to make is there a lot of European clubs who put such emphasis on making it a event that you can’t as a neutral fail to be impressed. They certainly aren’t better fans but do have a better culture in making that Saturday something truly unique and a great release from stresses of work etc. But it needs everyone to embrace it.
Aside from that, do something that doesn’t come natural to the modern day football fan, be patient, this isn’t going to be an easy ride but what we have to stop doing is changing managers so as long as we see progress and a plan let’s keep with it longer than a couple of blips during the season.
Ed’s Note [Gav]: Those are fantastic suggestions, and ones I think become a lot easier to put into place when the team on the pitch are successful. Sunderland supporters will respond if the club show them some love back, but encouraging people to be as involved as you are suggesting on a matchday would take time.
One of the big reasons I never used to use the Fanzone all that often in the past was because the drinks were expensive. Just a two minute walk away are a whole host of bars that do a better pint for a fraction of the cost. If the club can’t compete with the local boozers they’ll always struggle to get people to spend their drinking money in the Fanzone - particularly on crap, expensive beer served in a plastic cup.
That’s not to say it isn’t possible, but for the Fanzone to become a hub for home supporters it must be the best, most cost-effective and ‘value for money’ experience it can be. If the club are tied into catering contracts and can’t reduce their prices it makes their task all the more difficult.
There are certainly ways to improve matchday atmosphere though and I think your suggestions are great. Hopefully as the season progresses and more fans return we’ll see something more geared towards the sort of stuff that you have put forward in your Letter.